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Monday, June 18, 2012

Steven Souza Embraces the Bumps on His Road to the Majors

Young baseball player rarely enter the professional ranks and have success from the beginning. More typical are the ups and downs that build character and help determine if a player is cut out to be a major leaguer. Washington Nationals prospect Steven Souza has experienced that all first-hand and is starting to come out on the other side, while realizing his excellent potential.

The Nationals took Souza as an infielder in the third round of the 2007 draft out of Cascade High School in Washington. The right-handed hitter immediately flashed his diverse talent of power and speed, but was unable to put everything together, hitting just .194 and .213 respectively in his first two professional seasons. His struggles continued in 2009, as he stole 25 bases, but hit .237 with 116 strikeouts in 126 games with Class-A Hagerstown.

2010 ended up being a turning point for Souza in more ways than one. He stayed with Hagerstown, and while he still struggled with his average (.231), he had 11 home runs, 56 RBI, and 18 steals in 81 games. On July 15th it was announced that he had tested positive for substances on baseball’s banned list and was suspended for 50 games, effectively ending his season and disrupting any progress he had made.

Such a public discipline would completely derail many young players, but Souza decided to view it as an opportunity. He was rusty upon his return in 2011, hitting just .228, with 11 home runs and 25 steals for High-A Potomac.

In 2012 he was moved to the outfield to take advantage of his athleticism, and his game finally seems to be coming together. He is once again back with Hagerstown, but is finally clicking on all cylinders. In 44 games he is hitting .297 with 9 home runs and 40 RBI. It should be only a matter of time before he is promoted to see if he can sustain his success at the next level.

Before this season started Souza chatted with me about baseball. If you want to see what he is up to the rest of this season and beyond, make sure to also give him a follow on Twitter.  

Steven Souza Interview:

Who were your favorite team and player when you were growing up, and why?: My favorite team was the Seattle Mariners because it is my home town and I enjoyed watching them very much. However, my favorite player was Eric Chavez, for his gifted glove and his smooth swing!

Did you ever consider college ball, and if so, what made you decide to turn pro?: Yes, I did consider college. I had a scholarship for baseball to Washington State University. I chose professional baseball instead because I wanted the best coaching I could have right out of high school. I figured I was young and could get a jump start on everyone!

Can you describe what your draft experience was like?: The draft was by far one of the craziest, yet, exciting times of my life. There were a lot of people over at my house that day, all watching MLB Network and anxiously awaiting my name to be called, as we knew it was going to be somewhere between the second and third round. The Nationals at pick 80 asked me if I would sign at 100, and the rest is history.

After you signed, did you do anything to treat yourself or celebrate with family/friends?: I didn't do anything crazy. God has always taught me to be humble with my money; not running around buying needless junk. The fulfillment was me receiving an opportunity like nothing else; not money.

What has been your favorite moment so far in your career?: My favorite moment would have to be my 50 game suspension. I know that's not what you'd expect, but it's made me not only a better teammate but a more understanding person because of it. I've been shaped today by God through the experiences I've had in my life and I wouldn't take back a single one.

Who has been your most influential manager or coach?: That’s hard because I've been blessed with so many great coaches. But if I were to choose one, Jeff Garber has been a light in my life and a guide through my career. He has helped me so much with in-fielding and throwing I can't even begin to thank him. He also knows who I am as a person, understands me, and we communicate a lot better because of it.

What is spring training like for a minor league player?: Spring training isn't terrible if you enjoy working. There is a lot of work to be done in spring, starting with early work at 8, and ending with late work. Personally I like being around all the players; I enjoy getting up early and breaking a sweat. It's a great time to rebuild.
How closely do you follow the transaction of the Nationals and of the affiliate teams above where you are playing?: Unless it is one of my friends involved I have no idea what goes on with the transactions. Now it hasn't always been this way, but I've learned to keep my focus on what I can control and that is staying focused on God and on the field.


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